"Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." -Paul

25 April 2007


By Matt

I read: Romans 4

Today I came across a passage (4:16) in The Message that seemed to be very interesting as I wrestle with the question of where good people go when they die. Here's what it says:
"This is why the fulfillment of God's promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God's promise arrives as pure gift. That's the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that's reading the story backward. He is our faith father." Interesting, makes it sound like justification through Christ isn't quite necessary. However, that just didn't seem right to me, especially when I realized I didn't quite know what "God's promise" exactly refers to. So, I checked out the NIV:
"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all."

When you read that one it's very clearly talking about grace v. works. I don't know if this is much mistranslation as much as just being unclear. So, still wrestling :)

24 April 2007


by Ben

I read Proverbs 2.

"Make Insight Your Priority"

One particular part of this passage stood out to me (verses 9-15):

"So now you can pick out what's true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They'll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can't tell a trail from a tumbleweed,
These losers who make a game of evil
and throw parties to celebrate perversity,
Traveling paths that go nowhere,
wandering in a maze of detours and dead ends."

First of all (the English major in me is dancing), what great imagery! But more to the point, who has not been in a situation where you knew there were half-truths or downright lies going on. Worse still, who hasn't been the one bringing to life such falsities. "making a game of evil" If only we would make Insight our priority, then Good Sense would scout ahead for danger and keep us from making wrong turns. Our individual growth depends upon good company. The old adage has come up a couple of times for me in the last few days: Garbage in, garbage out. What we surround ourselves with is what we end up living. That is key!

If we surround ourselves with God's Word (i.e. the path to right living), we are bound to stay on that path.

23 April 2007

God's Actions, Not Ours

By Matt

I read: Romans 1-3

When people list themes of the book of Romans, they almost always note something about how it's God acting on our behalf, paying our debt. You see a lot of that in chapter 3: "God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does." Or: "But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does . . . "

The interesting thing about all this is that it really renders moot any of our attempts to judge anyone else. God's emphasis is on his movement, not ours. And furthermore, when we try to set ourselves up as better than others, we need to remember it's God's actions, not ours, that got us to where we are. Better yet, there's the truth that "we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (buth us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us. God did it for us."

I am an extremely critical, judgemental person. Sometimes that's good, like for my website, but judging other folks really isn't my domain at all and I love to hear the correction in these verses that let me know that, again, God's in charge and I need to be about recognizing his actions in my life and others' lives.

Turn to Wisdom

by Ben

I read Proverbs 1.

As I come out of the Psalms to begin the book of Proverbs, I realize that I have an excitement every time I start a new book. I get a little antsy to get into the book. I find myself wanting to read big chunks at a time (I resisted today). Part of that is my desire for completion, but part of it comes in seeing how the whole picture fits together. As I read, I fit the pieces of the Biblical puzzle together. I know that the puzzle will never be complete (and for someone who likes crossing tasks off, that could be overwhelming). But I get excited at the prospect of learning more about life, the universe, and everything.

I think that it is good that I am starting Proverbs at this time. Not that I need the reminders to be faithful to my (soon-to-be) wife. Rather, as I enter into a marital union, I should be seeking wisdom. I should be striving especially hard to avoid folly and to pursue wisdom. The pictures of Lady Wisdom and Madame Whore represented in Proverbs are great analogies for the diverging pursuits in our culture. Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

"Many people think that what's written in the Bible has mostly to do with getting people to heaven - getting right with God, saving their eternal souls. It does have to do with that, of course, but not mostly. It is equally concerned with living on this earth - living well, living in robust sanity. In our Scriptures, heaven is not the primary concern, to which earth is a tag-along afterthought. 'On earth as it is in heaven' is Jesus' prayer. 'Wisdom' is the biblical term for this on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven everyday living. Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves. It has virtually nothing to do with information as such, with knowledge as such. A college degree is no certification of wisdom - nor is it primarily concerned with keeping us out of moral mud puddles, although it does have a profound moral effect upon us.

Wisdom has to do with becomign skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children, handling our money and conducting our sexual lives, going to work and exercising leadership, using words well and treating friends kindly, eating and drinking healthily, cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes toward others that make for peace. Threaded though all these items is the insistence that the way we think of and respond to God is the most practical thing we do. In matters of everyday practicality, nothing, absolutely nothing, takes precendence over God."

18 April 2007

Kind, Not Soft

By Matt

I read: Romans 1-3

So, going back to the question, "Do good people go to heaven?" I find this in today's reading: "The day is coming when [the fire is] going to blaze hot and high, God's fiery and righteous judgement. Make no mistake: In the end you get what's coming to you--Real Life for those who work on God's side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!"

Well, this is interesting, and while not a contradiction of Jesus' claim, it certainly opens the door to more people than just those who acknowledge Jesus. I can think of a lot of people who work on God's side: those who heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. But they don't all do it for the same reasons, some are even doing good things for the wrong reasons. But then again, it's not our works that grant us grace, either. Oy, this is confusing.

But then again, Christ tells us that when we do these things "to the least of these," we're doing it for him. And that is a tacit acknowledgement of Christ, right? I don't know. I'm honestly wrestling here and trying to stay above the heresy line. Whereve that is :) I just don't know if it's as quite cut and dry as it might first seem.

Or I just love MTD. :)

17 April 2007


by Ben

I read Psalm 146-150 (finishing out Psalms).

All I can say is praise God. Hallelujah!

Account Balances

By Matt

Small Group last week had the guise of being about Kanye West's three videos for the song "Jesus Walks," but it was really my excuse to bring up and talk about that ever-lovin' MTD: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. MTD is the religion of choice for the new generation, a by-product of over-tolerance, over-emphasis on diversity, and communists. (Kidding.) The fifth unofficial tenet of MTD is "Good people go to heaven." While everyone saw the folly in the first four, that one was a sticking point. On one hand there's Jesus saying, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." But on the other hand there's the image of a loving father who wants his children with him. Our initial instinct is to say these two images don't jive and at some point every Christian in his or her walk is going to wrestle with this issue. (Hopefully.)

So, this morning as I was contemplating what I should read Romans popped into my mind. So, I started looking at some resources to determine what the main theme of the book is. I realize that since the epistles cover so many topics, I tend to read them piecemeal. So, my goal for now is to read them as a cohesive letter with different topics all lending support to the main argument. Anyways, the main theme of Romans is paid in full or how we are justified with God. I instantly thought back to small group. Coincedence? Let's find out.

I read: Chapters 1-3

Right in the first chapter Paul says something interesting. He talks about folks who don't know God but know that he's at work. "But the basic reality of God is plain enough," he says, "Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being."

In here are the verses that Malone's outdoors program use as their mission statement. God's creation, the earth and everything in it, is a tremendous witness to his power and creativity and wisdom. I simply can't understand scientists who know the secrets of life on earth and how the universe works and can't see God's hand in it. As the book says, it takes too much faith to be an atheist.

But it's good to know that God didn't just create mountains and lakes and ponds and oceans and streams and rivers and grassy fields and night skies and terrible storms just for aesthetics. They're there as sign-posts pointing upwards, his signature across the bottom of the canvas. I think we can all be grateful to God for putting in front of our noses clear evidence that he exists.

Sidenote: a picture of two Corcoran jump boots now graces my wall. I think that'll be a good enough reminder :)

16 April 2007


by Ben

I read Psalm 138-145.

My mind wandered a lot today while I read. I was having mild bouts with doubt about my actions as a youth leader. I say mild because as I read I was reassured that I am doing God's work. Not so much by the words, but merely by the comfort of reading Scripture.

I probably couldn't tell you much about what I read (even though I read it out loud, pronouncing every word). But I can tell you that I am at peace right now. "A peace that passes all understanding..." I think I get that phrase a little more.

I could be worried about whether my youth will ever be connected to God and whether I'm doing the best I could or if someone else could do my work better, but as each of those things come to mind, I get a whoosh of reassuring that feels like "You are doing everything that you should be doing." How cool is that?

Shoe Polish

By Matt

So, I've completely fallen out of service with my writing, my reading, and my prayer time. Yesterday especially I could feel it as at church I just felt "there," not participating, not really even worshipping, just pretty much taking up pew space. Not that I have a very particular routine, but last week was very out of routine with extra days off and I felt very spiritually out of sorts since I wasn't doing any of the things that I usually do. At a certain point apathy set in and I just wasn't getting any of it done. But then it didn't feel like there was anything I could really do.

In mid-February I began getting interested in WWII reenacting and have since started accumulating the gear for my own personal impression. The very first thing I acquired were my Corcoran Jump Boots, a goofy looking pair of boots manufactured by the same company that made them for our paratroopers in WWII. It wasn't long before I took them out in the field and got them pretty dirty and then accidentally forgot them in the trunk of my car, mud and all, during a fairly warm week. A few days later I realized my forgetfulness and fished them out and cleaned them off. The combination of mud and heat did a number on them and the leather had dried out and the scuffs on the toecap were fairly evident. So, I did what any good soldier would do, washed them up, dried them off, and began to polish them. Except that I didn't have a very good idea of what I was doing and polishing was an ungainly and tiring enterprise. Achieving that mirror-like gloss of the vaunted G.I. spit shine wasn't as easy as I thought. And boy was it time-consuming. However, I got through a few TheForce.net podcasts and enjoyed those.

Since then I've spent some time lamenting the dried-out leather on my left boot and trying to do something about it. One day last week, Friday I think, I decided to try my hand again at getting my boots back into shape. I had plannded on listening to a Harry Potter audiobook or maybe watching some TV but something moved me to go out on the porch, enjoy the nice day, and polish my boots without distraction. Despite the distractions, I found myself enjoying the process, despite the fact that I still don't know what I'm doing and it can be a tad frustrating at times. I'm not going to go down the road of saying it was a spiritual time for me, but there is a point to all this that is spiritually related.

Anyways, a website I found recommended just getting a good brush shine going with four or five layers of polish before you even try to spit shine. That makes sense. So, in my own bumbling way I got a good layer of polish on (with the recommended hairdryering to melt the wax into the boots) and acheived a shiny enough luster to warrant a friend to take pictures of my boots when I showed up to play Call of Duty in them. THAT was a satisfying feeling. And that was only the first of four layers! And I haven't even started spit shining yet!

This morning the alarm buzzed at 7 and I realized that I hadn't even cracked open my Bible for my usual A.M. Psalms reading in a long, long time (partly because of the Lenten devotional). I sayed a quick prayer that became quite curious. Instead of the usual "help me . . . " blather I do, I simply prayed, "God, equip me for today." In that offhand statement I found something fairly empowering. Instead of enlisting God's aid in my half-hearted attempts to help myself, I was saying something much more powerful. Sometimes you need hand-holding, sometimes you need to know to rely on the gifts God's given you. God has equipped me, so why am I praying for handholding? What I really need is to know what to take with me during the day, what skills/gifts/passions I am going to need to use. There's an analogy here for paratroopers packing their musette bags and stuffing their pockets with the right ammunition, provisions, and extra socks, but I won't go there ;)

Somewhere in that prayer time and reading of Psalm 148 I hit upon the shoe polish analogy. Polishing isn't a one time thing that's done and that's it. It's a process, one that requires layer after layer and then constant maintenance to retain that coveted shine. For several weeks now I have been neglecting my spiritual disciplines, my reading, my praying, and my writing. By not polishing I was opening myself up to spiritual dryness, to kicking into things that were going to leave scuffs and scratches. All of a sudden I felt an urgent need to repolish, to rebuild those lost layers that were protecting my soul.

Sure, it's a corny analogy, but for me it drives home the point that reading, prayer, and writing aren't just something I do to tick off a to-do list for the day. They are vital and essential to my soul, to my being, to my identity as a child of God. They are protection and revitalization and, umm, shiny. I need to keep up my layering and not let the leather get destroyed by my neglect. So, maybe after all polishing my boots is a strangely spiritual practice :)

05 April 2007

Anger, Accountability, and Authenticity

by Ben

I read Psalm 135-137.

Every so often, as I read through the Psalms, I find myself astonished at the range of emotions that the Psalmists go through. "These, our spiritual mentors, had that strong of anger?!" I suppose that this is true for all people, even the closest of God followers. Even Jesus got angry (see Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, and John 2:15). Our society (and largely due to the church) has developed the image of a Christian as being quiet, meek, and even timid. We have painted Jesus this way in our minds, so why shouldn't we follow this image in our own lives.

I know that I have felt guilty for my anger. Although, I wonder if sometimes this anger is justified (wc?). Part of me is angry that even though some people hear the gospel and attend church regularly, they don't live Christian lives. Divorce is just as prevelent in churches as it is in the secular world. The same is true of pornography. That's just incredible! We have gotten so comfortable with our "what's works for you might not work for me" mentality, that we are not comfortable with holding people accountable. We don't want to offend by sharing our faith because we wouldn't want someone forcing their faith on us.

If that is our best excuse for a lack of evangelism (not to mention a life lived following Christ), then we are kidding ourselves. It is no wonder that many churches are going back to the ancient practices (the disciplines) and Taize worship is becoming more popular; people want an authentic faith. They want to really connect to God - not just have a superficial connection or a "Just-in-case" religion.

I pray that my work through the church reaches people who haven't connected to God in an authentic way. I pray that I can help show them who God really is. I pray for an authentic Christian life.

A prayer

by Ben

I tried to get on yesterday, but my internet at work wasn't working. So, here is yesterday's post, previously written in a notebook:

I read Psalm120-134.

Father God,
I write to you in this time of fear. I look around me, but don't know where to turn. I want to minister to your children, but don't know where to turn for help when this ministry is falling. Give me vision, Father, God of the Ages. God above all, grant me your peace. Deliver me from this worry. Bring me answers to my problems - show me who should lead your children, so that I may call to them for your glory. My Lord, my God, you have delivered me from strife and trial - I trust in the everlasting promises that you have given to your people, your beloved. In walking on your path, light my way, so that I may know where to step in following you. My king, you are worth of more than a thousand perfectly lived lifetimes - I pray that my gifts fulfill your heart's desire, that my service brings a smile to your gentle and trustworthy lips. Your grace surrounds my life - allow me to share that grace with your people, with the lost. You have proven yourself before me, O Lord. Time and heresy have tried you, and you have come through looking as clean as an infant babe. Wash us all in your perfect love, Father, so that we may know you and show your love to others.

In Christ,

03 April 2007

The Joy of God

By Matt

I think this is oddly connected to my last post in a few ways. In today's reading Nouwen talks about the fact that God is love and so very much wants to receive our love and wants us to receive his love. Because we have a choice of whether or not we love God, our choices either sadden or make God happy. But here's the disconnect for me, not only that we can make God happy, but that I can make God happy. It's God we're talking about here, you kind of get this image of him as a rock, not being necessarily very emotional. However, he is a God of anger and jealousy and love, we know that, so shouldn't it be obvious that he can be a happy God as well? But then I consider the fact that I can make him happy. Something I can do can sway the God who created all and knows all and sees all to joy. That's kind of a big, scary thought to me. But I am known, very well known, so it stands to reason whether or not I think about that at all.

Prayer Request

by Ben

I read Psalm 119.

I'm feeling like I have a million and one things to do work-wise in the next few weeks. I've felt like I've been behind the 8-ball a lot this year. I am asking for prayer to help ease my tension.